Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Change in paternal grandmothers´ early food supply influenced cardiovascular mortality of the female grandchildren

Lars Olov Bygren12*, Petter Tinghög3, John Carstensen4, Sören Edvinsson5, Gunnar Kaati1, Marcus E Pembrey6 and Michael Sjöström1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biosciences and Nutrition, Karolinska Institutet, Huddinge, Sweden

2 Department of Community Medicine and Rehabilitation, University of Umeå, Umeå, Sweden

3 Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, Solna, Sweden

4 Department of Medical and Health Sciences, University of Linköping, Linköping, Sweden

5 The Demographic Database, University of Umeå, Umeå, Sweden

6 Institute of Child Health, University College London, London, UK

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BMC Genetics 2014, 15:12  doi:10.1186/1471-2156-15-12

Published: 20 February 2014



This study investigated whether large fluctuations in food availability during grandparents' early development influenced grandchildren's cardiovascular mortality. We reported earlier that changes in availability of food - from good to poor or from poor to good - during intrauterine development was followed by a double risk of sudden death as an adult, and that mortality rate can be associated with ancestors´ childhood availability of food. We have now studied transgenerational responses (TGR) to sharp differences of harvest between two consecutive years´ for ancestors of 317 people in Överkalix, Sweden.


The confidence intervals were very wide but we found a striking TGR. There was no response in cardiovascular mortality in the grandchild from sharp changes of early exposure, experienced by three of the four grandparents (maternal grandparents and paternal grandfathers). If, however, the paternal grandmother up to puberty lived through a sharp change in food supply from one year to next, her sons´ daughters had an excess risk for cardiovascular mortality (HR 2.69, 95% confidence interval 1.05-6.92). Selection or learning and imitation are unlikely explanations. X-linked epigenetic inheritance via spermatozoa seemed to be plausible, with the transmission, limited to being through the father, possibly explained by the sex differences in meiosis.


The shock of change in food availability seems to give specific transgenerational responses.

Epidemiology; Food change; Environmental shock; Human transgenerational response; Cardiovascular mortality; Överkalix